Wednesday, December 1, 2004

The Most Effective Form of Censorship

I was going to do a good rant about CBS, UPN, and NBC rejecting the United Church of Christ’s ad this morning, but Blogger was down. Then John at archy beat me to it – and did a great job on it.

This kind of cowardly self-censorship is more contemptible and more dangerous than formal censorship. In the old communist days, most of the countries in Eastern Europe did not have formal censorship laws on the books (contrary to the popular American stereotype). The Communist Parties depended on self-censorship to be more thorough and flexible than any written law. If a writer did not restrain himself from writing something controversial, his editor could be counted on to loose nerve and remove potentially offensive content. If the editor let something get by, the printer’s union would refuse to print it. If anything even vaguely offensive to the powers that be somehow made it into print, the merchants could be counted on to refuse to sell it. At the bottom, the consumers could always be counted on to be too timid to buy controversial works or to denounce anyone who did. The result, without ever passing a a censorship law, was a completely tame, uninformative, and inoffensive media structure. Most people got their news and information from rumors.

I wonder what Ed Murrow would say.